LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Orioles director of player development Brian Graham will get a nice honor tonight at the Winter Meetings. Graham will be receiving the sixth annual Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award, presented to an individual with distinguished service who has been instrumental in player development.
Graham just completed his sixth season with the Orioles, his first in his current role and his 32nd in professional baseball. Prior to joining the Orioles, he spent six years as the Pittsburgh Pirates senior director of player development. During his tenure, the Pirates' minor league organization was named Topps Baseball's Organization of the Year and 54 homegrown players reached the majors.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette will attend tonight's event.
"That's one of the top honors for player development here at the Winter Meetings, and they're honoring Brian not only for his longevity, but for the quality of his work in player development. Brian's a great asset to the organization and we're very proud of him," Duquette said.
The Orioles also showed how they felt about Graham when they made him available to reporters yesterday right after Duquette provided his daily briefing. They like the job Graham is doing and wanted him to get a little attention for a change.
"I'm extremely honored," Graham said. "In player development, you don't expect awards, so when you receive one, it definitely was a surprise and you feel very honored to be chosen.
"I'm fortunate that I'm in an organization where player development is extremely important and we take pride in it. Both Dan and Buck (Showalter) came up through the minor leagues and they are very, very invested in our player development system."
So what is the state of the O's farm right now?
"I think we have a very good group of players that are going to help the big league level," Graham said. "I don't think we have as much depth as you would like to have. You always want more depth in the minor league system.
"I think we are making strides and doing better. People have worked very hard here for a number of years. We've had good drafts the last couple of years and we have a really good group of minor league coaches and instructors and that is really important. The highlight for me this offseason is hiring a couple of good instructors and coaches and we've upgraded our staff the last couple of years."
Graham is very hands-on in his position with the Orioles. He is a front office executive, but doesn't work often behind a desk. He even puts the uniform on during O's minor league games and sits on the bench with the players.
"It is something Buck and I have discussed," Graham said. "It is important to be part of the process. It is important to know the feelings of the players. You sit next to someone after he's had an at-bat or while he's pitching. You learn more than when you see them from afar."
A few years ago, some speculated that the Orioles' scouting and player development systems were not on the same page at that time. Graham said that is certainly not true now, and he works together with scouting director Gary Rajsich.
"I am extremely pleased with the relationship between player development and scouting," Graham said. "Gary and I talk frequently. The last two instructional leagues, we've had scouts in our instructional league program. We do a great job I believe, of being on the same page."